San Pedro of Atacama

On Sunday June 12 my friends and I arrived in San Pedro d’Atacama in norther Chile close to the Bolivian border in the driest desert on the planet. The village is situated at 2,438 m above sea level with a population of 5’000.

We stayed in the Hostel Juriques not far from the centre which was great. We paid 8,000 pesos per night. The prices in Chile are higher than Bolivia which is a bit of a shock for your wallet and San Pedro is even more expensive than other parts of the country thanks to tourism.

During our stay, we hired bikes for half a day from one of the many rental shops in the streets and cycled to the Valle de la Luna, 15 km away from San Pedro. We left around 3 pm. It was still warm and fine for cycling. We cycled for about an hour and a half until we reached the point from which we wanted to watch the sun set. The final part, we had to hike uphill to see the view over the desert. The scenery is amazing and looks like the moon. After a while, we decided to cycle back before it got too dark as there was a tricky part on the way down. We arrived in town in complete darkness. If you’re interested in doing this (I really recommend it) take a head lamp for the way back – it’s a great help.

The desert of Atacama is reputed for its air quality. There isn’t much pollution in the region and therefore star gazing is highly recommended. We booked with the Flamingo agency in San Pedro. It cost us 20,000 pesos per person – maybe a little expensive but definitely worth it. We were lucky, the sky was very clear for our last night in San Pedro. We took the 10 pm to 1 am tour, the agency came to pick us up at our hostel, then they drove us to the observatory out of the city. Patricio and Natan welcomed us and started to explain what we were going to see trough the telescope. Jupiter, Saturn with its rings and Mars were the planets, then we saw tons of stars and constellations. As San Pedro is in the Southern Hemisphere constellations are not the same as in the north. It was very interesting to get to know the differences between the north and the south. From far away above the northern hemisphere we could see a star from the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear or Big Dipper).

As for other constellations we saw the Southern Cross, the Scorpion, the Lama and the Condor. Patricio also let us look at the moon through the telescope: it was incredible! So close, so bright that we could see all the craters. I love looking at the stars when I can, so I was in heaven for a few hours. If you’re in San Pedro, you must do the same.

The next day was time to say goodbye to Barbara who was going to Argentina. Christine, Chris and I left for a 23 hour bus trip to Santiago.

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